The ink is officially dry on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, signed by China and 14 other nations over the weekend. The New York Times said the signing ceremony came about after eight years of talks leading up to one of the world’s largest regional free-trade agreements. While the pact is somewhat limited in scope, it still covers approximately 2.2 billion people. That’s larger than any previous regional free trade agreement and likely helps improve China’s image as the dominant economic power in Southeast Asia.
It also comes about after a U.S. withdrawal from sweeping trade deals that appear to be reshaping global relationships. As other countries continue to sign trade deals, some trade experts say American importers may lose ground.
“While the U.S. is currently focusing on domestic issues, including COVID-19 and rebuilding its economy, I’m not sure the rest of the world is going to wait until America gets its house in order,” said Jennifer Hillman, a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations. “I think there are going to have to be some responsive actions to what China is doing.”
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